HC Deb 13 February 1983 vol 54 c17
28. Mr Canavan

asked the Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts whether the Government have yet come to a decision on the request by the Greek Government for the return of the Parthenon marbles.

Mr. Waldegrave

A formal reply to the Greek Government's request will be given soon.

Mr. Canavan

Is there any legal barrier to the return of the marbles? If there is, will the Government consider putting the matter to Parliament for a fresh decision so that we may make restitution to the Greek people for what Lord Elgin did at the beginning of the last century? After all, how would the Minister react if some foreign, aristocratic kleptomaniac stole the Crown jewels?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am beginning to find it difficult to think of new neutral replies on this subject. There is a legal bar to the return of the Elgin marbles in the British Museum Act.

Mr. Cormack

Does my hon. Friend agree that whereas the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) are at liberty to do what they like with their own marbles, they are not free to dispose of other people's?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that it missed the attention of the Leader of the Opposition that the marbles did not belong to him. Perhaps the Welsh national gallery, which has a famous collection of Monets, will be a little nervous in case the right hon. Gentleman goes to France for his next holiday.

Mr. David Atkinson

Had the request for the return of the Elgin marbles come from the Greek military Government to a British Labour Government, does my right hon. Friend think that the response of the Leader of the Opposition would have been rather different from his surrender to the siren charms of Melina Mercouri?

Mr. Waldegrave

I dread to contemplate what the right hon. Gentleman might think up under different circumstances. It is difficult enough to keep up with him under the present ones.